Saturday, July 16, 2011

Masterpiece Cheese

My Fellow Comedists,

This week, we lost another behind the scenes comedic mind. Sherwood Schwartz passed away. He began as an accidental writer for Bob Hope -- he was working on a masters degree in biology and needed some cash, so his brother got him the gig. When his jokes hit, he turned to writing for the radio, working on Ozzie and Harriet and the Red Skelton Show. When tv came along, he created two all-time classics, Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch. His worked shaped the modern tv sit-com, indeed, you could look at the majority of contemporary sit-coms as some sort of twist on Schwartz' formula.

But what is most interesting is his vision for Gilligan's Island,

“I knew that by assembling seven different people and forcing them to live together, the show would have great philosophical implications,” he told Time magazine in 1995. “On a much larger scale this happens all the time. Eventually, the Israelis are going to have to learn to live with the Arabs. We have one world, and ‘Gilligan’s Island’ was my way of saying that.”

“A social microcosm,” he called it when he pitched the idea to CBS founder William Paley, who shuddered at the description, according to Mr. Schwartz’s 1994 memoir, “Inside Gilligan’s Island.”

“It’s a funny microcosm!” Mr. Schwartz reassured him.
This notion of the televised "social microcosm" is the basis for all of reality tv and it traces back to the Skipper and his little buddy. Sadly, the formula, however, has become one in which you try to create the sort of ill-will that one sees in the Middle East instead of watching the ways in which it can play itself out constructively.

His work was described by Robert J. Thompson, a professor of popular culture and television at Syracuse University as "masterpiece cheese." It was cheesy, kitchy, and campy to the extreme. But it was honestly so. Now, we have characters who have to be snarky and sarcastic to be funny. In a post-Watergate/post-Seinfeld world, could a simple comedy like The Brady Bunch still be possible?

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve